MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian foreign minister says Moscow will push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control.
Sergey Lavrov said Monday that if such a move would help avert a possible U.S. strike on Syria, Russia will start work “immediately” to persuade Syria to relinquish control over its chemical arsenals.
Lavrov told reporters that Russia would urge Syria to concentrate its chemical weapons in certain areas under international oversight and then dismantle them.
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Russian and Syrian foreign ministers on Monday strongly pushed for the return of United Nations inspectors toSyria to continue their probe into the use of chemical weapons and again warned Washington against launching an attack.
The statement comes as President Barack Obama, who blames President Bashar Assad for killing hundreds of his own people in a chemical attack last month, is pressing for a limited strike against the Syrian government. It has denied launching the attack, insisting along with its ally Russia that the attack was launched by the rebels to drag the U.S. into war.
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after Monday’s talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem that U.N. chemical weapons experts should complete their probe and present their findings to the U.N. Security Council.
“We have agreed to push for the soonest return of inspectors,” Lavrov said.
Al-Moallem said his government was ready to host the U.N. team, and insisted that Syria is ready to use all channels to convince the Americans that it wasn’t behind the attack.
He added that Syria was ready for “full cooperation with Russia to remove any pretext for aggression.”
Neither minister, however, offered any evidence to back their claim of rebel involvement in the chemical attack.
Lavrov said that Russia will continue to promote a peaceful settlement and may try to convene a gathering of all Syrian opposition figures to join in negotiations. He added that a U.S. attack on Syria would deal a fatal blow to peace efforts.
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Lavrov wouldn’t say how Russia could respond to a possible U.S. attack on Syria, saying that “we wouldn’t like to proceed from a negative scenario and would primarily take efforts to prevent a military intervention.”
President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would keep providing assistance to Syria in case of U.S. attack, but he and other Russian officials have made clear that Russia has no intention to engage in hostilities.
Lavrov also denied allegations that Russia may have sponsored a deal between the U.S. and Syria during the Group of 20 summit in St.Petersburg last week, where Putin discussed the Syrian crisis with Obama.
“There won’t be and there can’t be any deal behind the back of the Syrian people,” Lavrov said.
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